Endurance runners may be jogging their their way to a worse smile. According to new research published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, runners are more likely to suffer higher risks of tooth erosion and cavities compared to people who train less.
Although running churns out a wealth of other health benefits, it appears the endurance sport can actually harm athletes' teeth due to high carbohydrate consumption and dry mouth, where the lack of saliva leaves teeth vulnerable to decay.
In the report, a team of German dental researchers recorded a significantly higher rate of tooth decay in triathletes than in non-athletes. What's more, athletes who engaged in more weekly training had more cavities than those who trained less.
The study involved 35 experienced triathletes and 35 participants who did not exercise regularly. The multi-sport athletes trained almost 10 hours a week with a mix of cycling, swimming and running. They were examined for cavities and tooth erosion and also took a saliva test both at rest and while exercising.
Based on a questionnaire, 46 percent of athletes reported consuming sports drinks while training and 51 percent drank water. Seventy-four percent ate gels or bars.
Compared to the control group, athletes who trained regularly had the most cavities.
"The triathletes' high carbohydrate consumption, including sports drinks, gels, and bars during training, can lower the mouth's pH below the critical mark of 5.5," Cornelia Frese, a researcher in the Department of Conservative Dentistry at the University Hospital in Heidelberg and marathoner, told Runner's World. "That can lead to dental erosion and caries. Also, the athletes breathe through the mouth during hard exercise. The mouth gets dry, and produces less saliva, which normally protects the teeth."
In essence, a decline in saliva flow and a significant jump in saliva pH were shown to heighten the risk for dental caries (cavities). Normally, saliva acts as the mouth's natural cleansing agent by breaking down food particles and rinsing out the mouth. However, when you run, it is common to breathe through the mouth, hindering saliva production and fostering a buildup of cavity-causing bacteria along with bad breath.
Tied to that, athletes' mouth were shown to become more acidic (pH lower than 7) during their workouts, and the longer they exercised, the higher the degree of acidity.
"Based on these findings, it can be suggested that endurance training has detrimental effects on oral health," the researchers write. "Additionally, there is a need for exercise-adjusted oral hygiene regimes and nutritional modifications in the field of sports dentistry."
To fend off cavities and post-run bad breath, it's a wise idea to drink plenty of water - even after consuming sports drinks since they contain high amounts of sugar - to neutralize the mouth's pH levels. You also might consider brushing your teeth or rinsing with an alcohol-free mouthwash.